When the Tripods Came (1988), the prequel to the first three books.
In The White Mountains, the Tripods have ruled the world for a hundred years, mankind having been reduced to a medieval state, and kept docile by "caps" which the Tripods surgically attach to their skulls around their fourteenth birthday. Will, an English boy, suspicious of the Tripods, and wanting to escape the mind-controlling Caps, flees with his cousin, Henry, to the eponyomous White Mountains, in Switzerland. En route, whilst in France, they meet up with Jean-Paul, known to them as Beanpole, an intelligent boy who fears that being Capped will stifle his curiosity, and who joins them on their quest for freedom.In The City of Gold and Lead, Will and Fritz, a boy from the White Mountains resistance, compete in "the games", an Olympic competition the winners of whom are selected to serve in the domed, environmentally controlled cities of the "masters" who operate the Tripods. Having been selected, they infiltrate the Tripods' European headquarters, located in Germany, and learn valuable information about the masters' biology, and their long-term plan to terraform Earth to their standards (and eradicate humanity in the process).In The Pool of Fire, The White Mountains resistance embarks on a race against time to free the world from the Tripods, in the few years left to them before the terraforming ship arrives.When The Tripods Came tells the story, introduced in a flashback in the second novel, of how the Tripods invaded and enslaved the world in the 1980s, using television and the mass media to win popular support for themselves and to instigate war between the human governments.The Tripods was also adapted into a live action television series, produced jointly by the BBC and the Australian Seven Network. Two seasons, covering the first two books, were broadcast in 1984 and 1985 respectively. A script for the third season was written, but never filmed. A theatrical film is now in pre-production. It was also serialized in comic form for the magazine Boy's Life in the 1980s.
The Tripods provide examples of:
Achilles' Heel: The Masters' sensitive spot between the respiratory and ingestive orifices. Also, they cannot detect alcohol, which is poisonous to them.
Aliens Are Bastards: Played straight with the Masters, who enslave humans with no regard for their well-being, and plan to exterminate the entire species.
Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: Although the Tripods have near-lightspeed craft, they have no means of detecting light outside the visible spectrum, and have no aircraft. Justified with regard to the latter, as the gravity and atmosphere of their planet was such that aircraft wouldn't work.
Aliens Steal Cable: How the Tripods are able to infiltrate Earth, after their failed invasion.
America Saves the Day: Averted. The human resistance in Europe is hiding in the Alps, because the Tripods avoid high altitudes with low atmospheric pressure (from what we see of the artificially maintained alien climate in their cities, their own planet seems to be vaguely swamp-like). The European resistance consists of people from all over Europe that fled there as uncapped children, but the main characters are from Britain. In The Pool of Fire, they make contact with a similar resistance group which formed in parallel to the one in the European Alps, but in the American Rockies. The protagonist, who has grown up in the rustic feudal-level society of the Capped humans with no long-distance travel, can't help but remark on how the Americans he encounters for the first time have an extremely bizarre accent. Ironically, despite having a well-organized and long-running resistance movement, their attack against the aliens fails, while the new recruits in Asia succeeded. The idea was to attack each of the three alien cities - one in China, one on the Rhine River, one in Panama - but the attack on the American city failed.
Artistic License - Linguistics: In early editions of When the Tripods Came, the phrase "Hail the Tripod!" is translated as "Heilen dem Dreibeiner!, which, not conjugated, simply means "To hail the Tripod". Averted in subsequent editions. A bit curious, since "Heil" is a rather famous German word.
Artistic License - Physics: The gravitational constant in Earth is thirty-two feet per second squared, not sixteen as described in the book.
The aliens think of themselves this way. They consider turning the humans into uncreative, unambitious cattle to have been helping them by stopping wars, and they think taking humans as slaves (who they beat, abuse, and shorten the lifespans of to a few years) and decorations (killing them and preserving the bodies for diplay) to be an honor... for the humans.
Berserk Button: Never speak or act against the Tripods if someone Capped is around, unless you're well armed.
Bittersweet Ending: Of course, the Tripods are defeated, never to return. Unfortunately, Julius is voted out of power, the Conference of Man fails to achieve a consensus in uniting humanity, and there are rumors of war.
Brainwashed and Crazy: The Capped. Not so much crazy, though, unless you start insulting or acting against the Tripods.
Vagrants are capped people who have gone insane as a result. Although tolerated and given food, they're kept out of villages and can be violent.
In the TV series the boys encounter a woman who traveled widely before being capped, and still has a compulsion to collect items from faraway places. She herself assumes this is just a kind of mental illness that the Cap fortunately restrains.
But What About The Astronauts?: Addressed in the story. The Masters on Earth are basically the first wave which will eventually end with terraforming the Earth to the Masters' biology. It's stated that the main ship is currently en-route, and more Masters still live elsewhere in the universe. When the ship finally does show up, it simply nukes the remains of the three cities (presumably to prevent any of the Masters' advanced technology from falling into human hands). It then departs, probably having decided Earth isn't worth the effort.
Callback: The scene in 'When The Tripods Came' with Laurie looking up at the sky and wondering if future humans will look up and dream of peace is a callback to a scene with Will and his friends looking up at the sky during the first book.
Competence Zone: Sort of. Most of the people who get things done are teenagers. At fifteen or sixteen, Beanpole has already become a head scientist, and Fritz soon after becomes a mission commander. Only partially justified by the fact that fourteen is the age of majority.
Crapsaccharine World: Most people live happily, and the Masters couldn't be bothered to actively control everyone; it is enough to put a mind block against resisting the Masters. In fact, you think, what's so bad about it? Until you realize that just to start with, it is not being able to think that is the matter.
Also, roughly one out of every twenty people that gets Capped is driven insane, becoming Vagrants. Vagrants basically have the mental capacity of a medieval Village Idiot, wandering around from town to town to beg. Most people feel both sorry for and ashamed of them, but none of the Capped people ever question why this has to happen.
On the other hand, after the destruction of the tank, the military hit the Tripod with a volley of missiles from a wing of jet fighters and it's easily annihilated. In The City of Gold and Led Will's master explains to him that the Masters had a healthy respect for humanity's military, well aware that if they tried to take mankind head-on they'd lose.
Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Beanpole is generally quite level-headed, except when it comes to the technological artifacts they find in the City of the Ancients in The White Mountains. It gets rather complicated when they find a cache of grenades.
The depiction of the Trippy Show sounds like the controversy and moral panic surrounding various fads, including Pokémon, Harry Potter, and Twilight. And the Tripods trilogy predates them all by several decades.
In addition, in the Prequel, some of the reactions to Cappings, including the school assemblies warning against them, are reminiscent of anti-drug campaigns.
Even Evil Has Standards : Will is exploring other Vichy Earth states besides England. When he arrives in one he comments that English hang murderers because they can't think of what else to do and nobody likes it much. In one German state they have them hunted by tripods. In other words English capped may be Les Collaborateurs but they are not sadistic.
The Masters destroy their former cities when they realise the humans have won, but make no other retaliation against Earth. This is likely due to their Blue and Orange Morality — revenge is not as important to them.
Fantastic Racism: The Masters think of humans as livestock or at best, as pets. Uncapped humans are, not surprisingly, not exceedingly fond of the masters.
Faster-Than-Light Travel: Actually averted. The Master who owns Will tells him that the ship travels almost as fast as light, and that it will be arriving at Earth soon (i.e. within the next few years).
How to Invade an Alien Planet: Cleverer than some. They are able to avoid, or work around the hazards of some of the obvious mistakes, but they have a critical weakness to alcohol, fail to realize that Caps can be faked until too late, and keep humans around as slaves (rather than killing everyone immediately) long enough for them to develop a resistance. At least they Know When to Fold 'Em, and destroy their Cities in the process, preventing humans from reverse-engineering their technology or deciphering starmaps.
Humans Are Warriors : Subverted. The Alien Invasion comes off almost without a hitch. However it is explained that the planners of the invasion had feared that human military technology might make them difficult prey if the invaders were not unusually subtle about it.
Well, humans do all right in the beginning, as the Tripods aren't built to withstand missiles. Then the invaders break out the Mass Hypnosis ...
I Did What I Had to Do: Which includes accepting people's hospitality and stealing their children. Many of the parents would of course have been glad that their children were free-if they were in their right mind. But as they were capped it's awfully tough luck on them. Will feels very guilty about this.
Idiot Ball: The Masters tracking Will in The White Mountains. Planting a tracking device on an un-Capped person, possibly acting suspiciously? Good idea. Using a great big hulking Tripod to check up on him and his friends, so they get suspicious? Not so much.
Ignored Expert: Dr. Monmouth in the prequel — at least, for the Cordrays.
Insert Grenade Here: The protagonists are being hauled up into the alien Tripod by its Combat Tentacles when one of them throws an Ancient Artifact they found in an abandoned cache through the opening hatch. The damage causes the alien atmosphere to vent into the outside world. In the TV miniseries, the boys find themselves underneath the Tripod which is standing on loose slate. They use the grenade to cause a small avalanche that unbalances it, popping the hatch open so they can throw a second grenade inside.
Kick the Dog: In the prequel, when a Tripod first appears, it abducts a farmer, demolishes said farmer's house with his wife still inside, and, sure enough, picks up their dog and flings it to its death.
While crossing the English Channel a Tripod threatens to swamp their vessel by deliberately steering close to it. In The City of Gold and Lead it becomes obvious that the aliens are not evil per se; there are simply those who abuse their power and those who don't.
La Résistance: The White Mountains group, along with some others.
Leave Your Quest Test: In The White Mountains, Will faces one of these when he faces the prospect of being welcomed into the Count's family and he thinks life with Eloise.
Likely the reason for every recruit taking the long hazardous trip to the White Mountains instead of staying to form cells in their own countries. It filters out those who don't have the determination or cunning to be a member of La Résistance.
In When the Tripods Came, Laurie faces one of these when he fears his father has abandoned him.
Loves the Sound of Screaming: Fritz' master in The City of Gold and Lead, who clearly beats him for fun. In contrast, Will's is Affably Evil, giving him a slightly larger living area than most slaves get, and asking Will polite questions about his life.
Make It Look Like an Accident: After Will kills his Master, he makes it look like the Master died in the bath of a drug overdose. After Will escapes, Fritz tells everyone he found the body and decided to commit suicide at the Place of Happy Release.
Mass Hypnosis: How the Masters take over the world. Firstly, they use television signals that aren't universally effective. Later, they use mind-controlling Caps on the victims of hypnosis, and (once they get a foothold) everyone else.
Minion with an F in Evil: Subverted; Will is adopted by a kindly Master who's built a special room for his slave and gives him time off to explore the city, especially after Will saves his life. However Will realises that his role is that of a favorite pet, and that his Master's attitude towards humanity is at best patronising. When the Master reveals their plan to terraform the Earth killing everyone on it, his view is that some humans should be preserved in zoos, rather than that the whole genocide is wrong.
Nonindicative Name: Or nonindicative nickname — Wild Bill Hockey. "He didn't look wild, and his name wasn't Bill."
Not Himself: Laurie's first clue that there is something seriously wrong with his Uncle Ian.
Will's Master realises he's not capped when Will fails to bow after a beating (the first time this had happened, and only because the normally kindly Master was high on drugs).
Actually this only becomes clear in retrospect to the Master. The true precipitating incident comes when Will's Master goes into Will's room and finds out that Will was making notes about the Masters and the City in the margins of his books. In the Master's words, "The cap should forbid that absolutely."
Not So Different: The humans' overconfidence in When The Tripods Came parallels the Tripods' overconfidence in The Pool of Fire. Both pay dearly for this.
Properly Paranoid : Invoked. In When the Tripods Came the Swiss are shown as having a nationalism that verges on fascism, including a distasteful hatred of outsiders. The father says that under the circumstances that could give them a better chance for surviving free of the Tripods. As it happens they don't and are conquered by the French and German capped. But they do have an offstage Dying Moment of Awesome at least.
Ragnarok-Proofing: Despite a worldwide civil war and a century of abandonment, a great deal of equipment and knowledge is salvaged from deserted human cities.
Schmuck Bait: Double-subverted by the "DANGER: 6,600 VOLTS" sign in the beginning of The White Mountains. The reason for the warning sign had long since become a non-issue, "but the notion of danger, however far away and long ago, was exciting."
Second-Hand Storytelling: Infuriatingly done at the beginning of The Pool of Fire. While Will and Fritz are wandering over Europe and the Middle-East starting resistance cells, Beanpole heads an effort to rediscover as much technical knowledge as possible and get it weaponized. At the same time another group sails ACROSS THE FRIGGING ATLANTIC to North America and makes contact with another resistance group!
She Is the King: Straddles the line between Types 2 and 3. In When the Tripods Came, during the stopover in Guernsey, the narrator comments that the islanders hail the Queen as the Duke of Normandy, which, according to The Other Wiki, is her correct style despite her gender.
Square/Cube Law: The Masters are bigger than humans, and come from a higher-gravity planet. One would think that, because of the square-cube law, higher gravity would necessitate them being smaller. However, they do need to consume much more than humans to survive.
Sub Story : Alluded to. Some of the last bits of the formal human military forces to be subdued were submarines. These had to be sunk rather then having their crew capped and one almost managed to destroy a tripod city.
Take That: A reviewer of the original books wondered about the Tripods not having infrared lights for night searching. John Christopher included some lines in the prequel book as a response to that, with the psychiatrist saying that even if not all of their technology is advanced, they might be advanced in studies of the mind.
Villainous Valour: In the backstory the Masters voyaged far away from their homeworld and then decided to top that by conquering, well, us.
Wax Museum Morgue: In The City of Gold and Lead, Will's Master takes him to this place, where he finds Eloise.
Weaksauce Weakness: Even tiny quantities of alcohol render the Masters completely unconscious for hours and they are unable to detect it. However, actually getting the alcohol into the masters water supply proves exceptionally difficult.
Wham Line: In When the Tripods Came, the growing cult of humans who have been hypnotized into worshipping the Tripods (the "Trippies") is progressively getting worse, and they've started using the (early, removable) Brain Cap which allows them to be controlled all the time. The main character looks at three military jets flying through the sky, and spends a long moment calming himself by pointing out that the authorities still have the might of our entire military and civil infrastructure against what are basically hypnotized rioters...then two of the military jets shoot down the other one. Although he never knew which side each plane was on, this is the terrifying moment when the protagonist realizes that the Capped humans have taken over at least part of our frontline military units, and we are truly no longer in control.
In The City of Gold and Lead when Will discovers that the Masters will start their terraforming project in just a few years, as opposed to the generations the resistance assume would be needed to overthrow the Masters.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Despite Jack's capping being the catalyst of Will's journey, he isn't mentioned at all in The Pool of Fire when Will discusses his trip to visit his parents.
Wicked Cultured: The Masters appreciate beauty. So they have the Capped humans hold beauty contests for young girls. They take the "winners" and kill them, perfectly preserving their bodies forever, like butterflies under museum glass. They honestly don't have any moral problem with this, any more than a butterfly collector who doesn't realize he's killing what he claims to appreciate.
In fairness, butterflies are already at the end of their lifecycle. In the adult stage of their life cycle, butterflies only live a couple of weeks at most. Of course, to the Masters, We Are As Butterflies.
Won the War, Lost the Peace: The end result of the liberation of Earth; humanity rearms and returns to his divisive ways. The book ends with the protagonists teaming up again to work for peace.
Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The manner of speech affected by Ozymandias, as part of his disguise. Justified in that he is pretending to be brain damaged.
Affably Evil: Al Pasha, who runs a traveling circus of children — either the offspring of vagrants or children who've run away to avoid capping. Those who don't have the talent to perform he hands over to the Black Guards for money. Will and Beanpole avoid this fate by promising him they know the location of buried treasure (the remains of a gold and silver chess set Beanpole has found). Because he can't take the other children with them into the White Mountains, Pasha arranges for the Black Guards and a Tripod to turn up so they can be capped, with the Guards taking the pick of the bunch.
Anachronism Stew: Once they cross the English Channel the boys encounter steam-driven trains and barges. The Masters are using a human-built nuclear reactor to power their city.
Cliff Hanger: Season One — the boys are told they'll be sent as spies into the Master's city. Season Two — Will and Beanpole return from their successful mission to find the Freeman base has been destroyed by the Tripods.
Food Slap: The wife of the bargemaster is ill, possibly from The Plague. Will tries to take her a mug of water but Fritz blocks his way, so Will tosses the water in his face.
Frickin' Laser Beams: Not in the novels, but in the TV series after the boys destroy the tripod with a grenade, red-painted military tripods are sent out to find them, and shoot up the countryside in an effort to flush them out. This happens again at the end of Season 2, after our heroes and the circus children flee into the woods to escape capping. Which leads to a Fridge Logic moment; if Season 3 had been made, what was to stop the Tripods from simply shooting down the balloons?
Giant Foot of Stomping: Fortunately our heroes are in a cleft of rocks that protects them from being squashed. In the first episode of Season Two however, a freeman gets killed this way when he runs near the Tripod to divert its attention from his friends.
The Guards Must Be Crazy: Will and Henry sneak out of a French prison past a guard who at one point is standing in a position that meant he'd be looking into the (now empty) cell they've just escaped from.
While searching Fritz's room, the Guards somehow miss William who's hiding in the shower stall.
Hollywood Heart Attack: Fritz finds one of Julius' spies working in the nuclear reactor. He says he's got a heart condition brought on by the high gravity and the stress of working alone as a spy for years, but is given a new lease of life by meeting another freeman. Just when he's about to reveal the plans he's worked out for escape and sabotage, he realises he's late for his shift and collapses from a fatal heart attack.
Human Popsicle: Eloise is preserved with other specimens of beauty or scientific interest to be taken to the Master's planet. Will is no less disturbed on seeing this.
If I Can't Have You: When Eloise starts falling for Will, the man she was supposed to marry arranges for the Tripods to take her.
Instant Expert: While riding on a barge Beanpole quickly works out the steam engine, and how to make a poultice for the bargemaster's sick wife.
In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Will's Master claims that this is why they had to conquer the Earth, though as moments before he said that humanity was on the verge of developing the technology to expand across the galaxy, it's clear they were actually seeking to destroy a potential rival.
Knife-Throwing Act: In the final episode, the protagonists are hiding in a traveling circus. The ringmaster, Evil Foreigner Al Pasha, forces two of the children to train for this act, so Will offers to take the girl's place, but only when the thrower is good enough to hit the Knife Outline a hundred times in a row. To Will's apprehension the knife thrower is able to reach this target before they arrive for a big show in Geneva, and so Will has to do someWilliam Telling as the final act involves him with an apple on his head.
Montage: As our heroes are on the barge to the games, Will is hitting a punching bag, Beanpole is working on the steam engine, and Fritz is doing exercises.
Railing Kill: Will and Fritz kill three Black Guards during their escape from the Master's city this way.
Smart People Play Chess: While watching the river to see if his friends escape the alien city, Beanpole plays chess with a gold and silver chess set he's found in an abandoned building.
What Could Have Been: The outline of season 3 followed the books relatively closely, but added a few elements for extra drama. Jules would have found a traitor after things kept going wrong, but continued problems would have lead to questions about a second traitor. When Will's group destroyed the domed city, he would have rescued Eloise, who was in suspended animation rather than dead as in the books, and taken her back to the chateau. However, news of the failure of the attack on the third city would have prompted him to leave to go back to the fight.